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Sympathy Etiquette Tips

When a death occurs, many people are unsure what to say or do. Learning more about the etiquette of sympathy can help one avoid mistakes and ease anxiety about participating in funeral services and reaching out during a difficult time. Use these tips from to help

Funeral Homes are Info Central: The family typically relies on the funeral home for handling the arrangements including casket, arranging for flowers, funeral transportation, printing programs and death cards, etc. If you have any questions about a family’s preferences, the funeral home will usually be a good source of information

Guidelines For Attending Funeral and Memorial Events: While the visitation, burial service and luncheon are for very close friends and family, funerals are generally open events – unless the family requests privacy. Typically if there is an obituary in the paper which announces the location for services, it is OK to attend. If you are unsure, ask the funeral home where the arrangements are being made.

Sending Gifts: If the family is holding a visitation service, viewing, or funeral at the funeral home, it is appropriate to send a floral or plant gift. It is also appropriate to send a floral or plant gift to the home of the closest bereaved, such as the wife, child or sibling, immediately upon hearing the news or up to a month after the funeral. Note that sending plants and flowers is not part of the Jewish tradition.

Charitable Donations: If the family requests that a donation be made to a specific charity, it is kind to do so. If the family does not specify a charity, you can choose based on the interests of the deceased. For example if he was a sportsman or artist, choose a charity that funds Olympic Training, or Arts Education.

What To Say: A simple and sincere verbal statement or written note is best. “I’m so sorry, I’ve been thinking about you” shows you care and opens a dialogue for more conversation, if appropriate. For a close friend, you can add something like “ I am here for you if you need anything or just to talk.” They will take it from there.

What Not to Say: Do not offer cheap clichés like “time will heal your sorrow” or “everything happens for a reason.” Some people avoid funerals and memorials because they do not know what to say. Do not avoid reaching out because you feel awkward! The bereaved will appreciate any effort, however awkward, that shows that you care.

Guidelines for Behavior: While most funerals and memorials are somber and sorrowful, many funerals are “celebrations,” exuding an air of festivity. However, unless you are very close to the family, maintain a fairly “ neutral” demeanor. Wearing dark simple clothing, speaking with a hushed voice and speaking directly and succinctly will ensure that you are behaving appropriately.